« SketchBook at Maker Fair | Main | Free Comic Book Day 2013 »

Better Know a Brush 02 - The Airbrush


There's a billion different ways to customize a brush. Kyle covers it really well in this post. But what about the default tools? The default tools are locked down in some ways, and you can only change basic attributes. Why would you want to use the airbrush? The felt pen?

BKAB is a series of quick simple tutorials on the default brushes in your tool palette. It's meant to help you understand each tool individually, and inspire you to think about how use them, and how to customize brushes.



In order to properly simulate an airbrush, the tool has a fuzzy quality to it. The larger the stroke, the fuzzier the edges, even at 100% opacity. This is just like a real airbrush!


Shading with the airbrush is like a dream! Like I said last time, I'm kind of a shading nut- I want everything smooth and blended. The airbush and I get along really well. Here's how I like to work:

First, I lay down huge patches of value to block in my shading. I don't mind being sloppy- we're going to clean it up.Then I take the airbrush tool at a very low opacity and a medium size, maybe 25 radius and .01 opacity. I select one color of value- like the super dark color on my cube.


I take my brush and run it along the edge of the dark color and the lighter color. Because the brush is a low opacity, this creates an inbetween color that is half the lighter color and half the darker color. That's perfect- it's what I wanted. I then select this new inbetween color, and run it over the edge of where it meets the dark.

I keep going this over and over again- select, lay down light opacity color, select, lay down light opacity color, and eventually things start looking pretty smooth!


I wanted to make something fluffy for my final image. I have a story idea I've been kicking around about Moon Sheep. They have buoyant wool that floats down to earth to create our clouds. The dark size of the moon is covered in grass- and that's how they're able to sustain living on the moon!

There's several different textures I'll need to simulate for the image- fluffy wool, spikey grass, and bumpy moon texture. I use the size quality of the brush to help me describe the textures- sharp at small sizes and blurry at larger ones.

Grass: This is where the small sharp brush comes in handy. First I lay down big patches of color using a big brush, but then I go down to 5.0 to describe the spikey grass. 

Moon: Same idea, different kind of stroke! I use the big fat brush for large areas, and then I scale it down to make little bumps, holes, and pits.

Wool: I sketched my Moon Sheep out first, and then used the big fat brush to give him fluffy volume. I used the thin stroke at 5.0 to make little stringy bits of fluff.

Here's my final image-


I made a timelapse of the progress too.

Now, get out there and make some fluff!



Reader Comments (3)

I must admit, airbrush tool is getting a lot more time in my studio too, on the desktop as well as iPad. I think SB has one of the best around. BTW I LOVE your fluffy sheep, the horns are way fun. Thanks for the great tutorial.

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSuzi54241

Yay! I was looking forward to Pt. 2. I really love this series! Thank you for this in-depth focus, it's extremely helpful for some of us (me) who fumble around with a lot of the brushes, not sure when/where/why to use some of them. The speed-paint is much appreciated, too! I like watching how people use the layers. I haven't developed a strong preference of my own yet. Keep up the great work!

May 10, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua

Aside from the pencil tool, the airbrush is one of my fave tools as well. It's a great tool for shading and I also actually use it for drawing because if you turn up the opacity and make it small, you can get a fairly good pencil that's a tiny bit different than the stock one! Yet another great tutorial by Renee!

May 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike Milo

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>